In with the New

Updated: 2008-04-23 13:41

You know you've been in Shanghai a while when a good restaurant experience seems few and far between. Well, you may discover that elusive good meal at Xindalu("The New Continent"). I am not sure of the name, which seems counter-intuitive to its cuisine of classical mainland Chinese dishes, but don't judge a restaurant by its title. The menu itself is a novella of options, encompassing mainland Chinese cuisine from Shanghai to Beijing to Suzhou.

Although it's slightly ironic that a great new Chinese food restaurant is located in a Western hotel, the experience is worth a trek to Hyatt on the Bund.

The restaurant's impressively low-key decor directs your attention to the food ... at every stage of its evolution. Upon entry, you are guided past an open kitchen, its shiny steel surfaces sparkling for the public. As you move towards the back of the restaurant you come across the pride of Xindalu: a 7-tonne duck-melting oven with an open view of the poultry-simmering damages. I am not sure exactly what that means in restaurateur-speak, but apparently it was very difficult to get a permit for. What it means for the average diner is an acutely tender duck or pigeon.

First things first, however. Before one begins the meaty mains, there are 18 appetizers to choose from, amongst them both adventurous and tame Chinese favorites: lotus root and glutinous rice; wheat gluten and ginko with mushrooms and chestnuts; bean curd and wild vegetable rolls -- all of which tasted especially flavorful knowing the price (28rmb).

For the typical Shanghai quasi-alcoholic, there is an extensive (foreign) wine list as well as a playful Chinese mock-tail list. I tried the "Chinese Driver" -- OJ and Chinese "wine" (hard liquor) -- which I must say wasn't very nice on the palate, echoing too closely the daily morning commute in a flailing taxi cab. The Xindalu cocktail however was nicer, iced chrysanthemum and some other baijiu-type liquor: clean and crisp. I was curious about the Mao-tai, but we settled on a nice New Zealand Sauv-Blanc.

Next came the seafood: the Long Jing tea crystal shrimps were abnormally sweet and dainty with crispy tails (188rmb). They were followed by braised hairy crab roe with shredded bean curd (168rmb), which received the gold ribbon of the night. Although there was an astronomical amount of food on the table, this large dish was inhaled by both my guest and I in five minutes flat. We also received the "famous Shanghai hairy crab roe dumplings," (58rmb) which were disappointing in comparison to the other dishes.

Gluttony ensued with the two main courses. The Peking Duck was delivered to our table in its original animal form and carved before our very eyes. Then, the remaining bones and fat were simmered together in a tasty soup (138rmb for half). The braised eel was an unforeseen hit, and fortunately, looked more like large and juicy ribs than the slimy sea creature that it is (188rmb).

After consuming these large portions of food, we loosed our belts and carried on to the sweet stuff. Diverging from most Chinese restaurants, Xindalu offers an incredible desert spread which is a mixture of Asian and Western elements, unlike the more honestly Chinese menu. The icing on the cake, so to speak, are the cheeky names like Jasmine Tea-ramisu (tastes like green tea, which was a let down) and an east-meets-west soufflé glace encased in a mandarin orange (served with dulce de lece). Although I wasn't entirely partial to the devoid-of-sugar homemade bean curd, both my A-Pac guests raved about its authenticity. They remarked, "If you like your tofu as smooth as a baby's bottom, then this should keep you happy." Now that just sounds wrong, doesn't it? But apparently it's oh so good.


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